Elan Vital

Doctrines The teaching of Elan Vital is called the Knowledge, a path to spiritual development and self-realization through esoteric yogic techniques. The main methods centre on training the senses to turn from external to inner experience, thus achieving bliss through the perception of Divine Light, Music, Nectar, and the 'primordial vibration' or 'Holy Name'. Satsang (the meeting of guru and disciple) is the central practice and means for disciples (formerly known as premies) to recognize the guru's charisma. This experience is reinforced and intensified through darshan. Darshans take place mainly at festivals held several times a year throughout the world, although closer devotees have more regular contact with their guru.

History Elan Vital traces its lineage back to the Sant Mat tradition, which gave rise to the nineteenth-century Radhasoami movement. It was founded in India in the 1930s as the Divine Light Mission by Shri Hans Ji Maharaj (d. 1966), the Radhasoami leader. His youngest son, Guru Maharaj Ji (b. 1957) later known simply as Maharaji, came to Europe and America in 1971, where he founded a network of centres. The movement grew rapidly and soon became one of the most prominent NRMs of the 1970s, largely owing to its ecstatic meditational practices which were then new to the West. It suffered reversals after Majaraji fell out with his mother after marrying his American secretary. She took over the movement in India, where Majaraji's brother is now recognized as head of the movement, though he himself is still in control in the West. In the early 1980s the movement changed its name to Elan Vital and adopted a lower profile, also becoming more Westernized.

Symbols Darshan provides the key symbolism in Elan Vital, an ancient Hindu ceremony central to bhakti yoga. It is a means of expressing devotion to the guru, opening the disciple's heart to attain an intimate inner communion and experience of bliss. The 'third eye' is important as the symbol of inner vision, as is shabd, inner sound. Images of blinding light, waves, sweet music and nectar are often used to describe these experiences. These are traditional to Hinduism, but more contemporary images such as electricity and atomic energy are also used. The key metaphor is 'merging' with the light, music or Word perceived, and with the entire creation or universe. This is a common experience and image in monistic and devotional religion and is also found in Buddhism. The guru is perceived and worshipped as Satguru, the Absolute Lord and true teacher, embodiment of the divine. Devotees comment on his aura, shining presence, beauty, and piercing eyes. As they lose themselves in his gaze, the guru is also perceived as a 'perfect mirror' revealing the disciples' true nature.

Adherents The movement claimed hundreds of thousands of members in the 1970s, but have now dropped to tens of thousands, about 7000 in Britain, 15,000 in America (Barker 1989, 178).

Main centres
 PO Box 131, Hove, Sussex BN3 1JA, UK. Box 6130, Malibu, CA 90264, USA.